Earlier this month WEHOville asked West Hollywood residents what issues they wanted candidates in the March 7 City Council election to address. We received hundreds of responses and boiled them down to 11 key issues. We have asked each of the ten candidates in the election to offer his or her positions on these issues. On each Monday over the next few weeks we will publish one or two of the questions and the candidates’ responses.
8) West Hollywood was founded by advocates for rent control who wanted to preserve the city as an affordable place to live. State law has gutted some of the protections provided by city law, and West Hollywood now is an expensive place in which to rent or own. Now, what can the city do to make West Hollywood a more affordable place to live for everyone, and specifically for the young, the disabled and seniors?
a) How can the city help seniors whose landlords evoke the Ellis Act to evict them and then turn their apartment units into lucrative condos, given that the payments those seniors receive on eviction often aren’t sufficient to cover West Hollywood’s high rents for long, and that the waiting list for affordable housing units is so long?
b) Should the city consider permitting construction of so-called “micro-units,” the very small apartments being built in cities such as San Francisco, New York and Boston to provide affordable housing for young people?
c) Which better addresses West Hollywood’s housing affordability problem: a) insisting that developers of buildings with ten units or more add affordable housing or b) requiring those developers to contribute to the city’s housing trust fund?
9) The process of starting a new development or opening a new business in West Hollywood is seen by some as too complicated and something that dissuades small business owners from coming here. Do you agree? And if so, what would you do to change that?
As I wrote last week “experience” does not necessarily translate to knowledge or with our current incumbents…creativity. Last week I pointed out the fallacy of stating that grants were gifts of public funds when they most definitely are not (see 24 CFR 570.202). This week I would like to point out the additional misleading statements made by our two incumbents (on purpose or not) just last week: Our first incumbent stated: “Many residents may not realize that every city in the State of California is assigned a RHNA number (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) requiring each city to build additional housing units. … the questions isn’t whether or not to build additional housing – we must.”
I am not against affordable housing; in fact creating it is what I do for a living. But what RHNA actually does require is that we provide the state with a plan to address our city’s housing needs and that our zoning and codes allow for that number to be built. That’s it. That’s all. There is no “must” about it. And in addition, saving affordable units counts toward RHNA just as building new ones does. So, although we should create affordable housing through a combination of methods including building, it is not our only choice.
Further our incumbent states that, “… we analyzed our general plan and decided to move new housing construction down to the commercial corridors to relieve development pressure in the neighborhoods.” However, in the last 1½ years, there have been no new projects approved by the Planning Commission on any main streets and, there have been approximately 16 new projects approved on residential streets.
Our second incumbent argues that: “Some development is inevitable because property owners have a legal right to develop their properties when their proposals are consistent with the city’s zoning ordinance …true. However, it’s the city council that determines our zoning ordinance. And, although he points out that there is a long list of residents who are in need of permanently affordable housing because they are seniors living on low incomes, he fails mention how many of those seniors have lost their housing through eviction and demolition for new housing. For example, a total of 34 rent stabilized units were lost to just two recent projects.
Therefore, it is clear that we could and should be creating affordable housing through several creative means that do not at the same time drive rents up, throw vulnerable seniors onto county waiting lists that are ten years long and destroy neighborhoods in the process. And in fact, if you look around, you’ll see that this has been the result and it is attributable to our incumbents who control three votes on the city council. And there is your truth. But don’t take my word for it, simply go back to West Hollywood City Council videos (as I did) and watch how the votes have gone.
Some of what we could do to address the needs of affordable housing is, first to stop misleading the public as to what the numerous alternatives are and second to incentivize landlords who want to keep their buildings through the award of grants from federal, state and local sources.
But our incumbents throw up their hands in feigned dismay and tell the public there is just nothing they can do about it
And I say enough with these disingenuous displays of helplessness.
So…I ask that you look around at what is happening in our city and ask yourselves is this I want? And if it’s not, then NOW is the time to vote for change.
One of the reasons I was able to move to West Hollywood and call this my home for 25 years is because I was able to live in a rent control apartment for the first decade I lived in our city. I shared a two-bedroom apartment with a friend on Huntley Drive, and our rent was very affordable. Since I was just starting out in my career and was new to the city, this was a great advantage for which I am still
grateful and for which I want to fight so that other residents can benefit as I did. Unfortunately, during the 10 years I lived in this apartment, I became all too familiar with the Ellis Act and how unscrupulous landlords can use it illegally to evict good tenants so that they can replace them and rent out the unit at a much higher rent.
The city must have stiff penalties for landlords who use the Ellis Act illegally to ensure that the negative consequences far outweigh the benefit they derive from such practices. We must be sure to follow up after a tenant is forced from their home to guarantee that the purpose for which a landlord evicts a tenant is the actual purpose the home is used for after eviction. For example, under the Ellis Act, a landlord may evict one tenant every two years from any unit they own to allow an immediate family member to move in with no reason necessary. We must ensure that, if that is the reason for the eviction, then that is the actual use when it is re-rented. Again, if that turns out not to be the case, the landlord should suffer still penalties that could go toward a fund for affordable housing and they should be prohibited from benefiting from this practice again so that they would be barred from such acts in the future.
Additionally, the city should be much more proactive in finding new affordable housing for someone displaced by the Ellis Act. We should move them to the top of the waiting list for such housing and they should be prioritized over people not currently living in West Hollywood and/or someone not displaced for such reason.
I think we should work to find strong solutions to utilize micro units to provide additional affordable housing for those who are interested in it. This would also drive down the prices of other units because it would increase the number of units on the market. Although this would increase the density of the city, I believe that this is an example of SMART development and we should work with our residents on building these properties in appropriate areas in our city.
I am strongly in favor of having developers contribute to the affordable housing fund managed by the city. This allows us to repurpose existing buildings to be used for affordable housing. Oftentimes, developers use the requirement to allocate a percentage of their building as an excuse to build an oversized project on a medium-sized lot. Who will be monitoring the use of those allocated units five or even ten years from now? Based on the city’s recent track record, residents have no confidence that they will still be used for the purposes for which they were originally intended in the future. And we are right to lack that confidence in this case.
Rental prices are further driven up by landlords who rent their properties out to short term renters through websites like AirBnB. By taking units off the market to be used for purely profit- driven motive we are not only further limiting available housing in West Hollywood, but we are driving up the prices of the units that are on the market. This must stop and, again, measures must be implemented to deter landlords from this practice.
Finally, we must stop destroying existing rent-controlled buildings to erect more hotels. Again, we are taking units off the market and driving up the prices of the homes remaining on the market. This benefits no one but developers and tourists. It harms only residents and those who wish to become residents of our city.
When I talk about “Protecting Our Urban Village” affordable housing is one of the key elements of the plan I wish to promote if I am fortunate enough to be elected to a place on the Council.
8) As I’ve mentioned before, the only way to make West Hollywood a more affordable place to live is to increase the inventory of affordable housing. We need to build “up” along the major corridors and in neighborhoods that can support additional vertical density.
a) In my opinion, the city does a terrific job of protecting seniors from displacement, and creates many opportunities for them to remain in West Hollywood. As reported by WEHOville on Feb 3rd, the city’s latest report on housing indicates that only 4.5% of the city’s total of 16,832 rent- stabilized units have been “Ellis’d” since 1986.
We need to continue to protect our rent stabilization laws — on the books before Costa-Hawkins — and I support the proposal to require rent- stabilized units in new development projects where applicable
b) Absolutely. I believe the city needs to allow for construction of micro-units as an affordable housing option, as well as an opportunity to provide housing for the homeless.
c) We need to increase the inventory of affordable housing.
9) The city should reexamine parking requirements for new businesses, incentivize small businesses with credits for employees who carpool or ride-share, and make the business licensing process less convoluted. Additionally, with more than 70% of businesses in WeHo employing 4 or fewer employees, we need to streamline the process and limit restrictions on truly small, local businesses.
8) Sacramento passed two major pieces of legislation in the 1990’s which impacted West Hollywood’s rent control laws: the Costa/Hawkins law (vacancy de-control) and the Ellis Act (evictions). And state law trumps local law in this area. Don’t believe candidates who make false promises about overriding Ellis. It’s not possible. The city has been trying for many years to reform these laws in Sacramento (along with Santa Monica and San Francisco) but the legislature won’t budge. This means that our best tool to preserve affordable housing is our existing rent control law which protects thousands of tenants in their rent-controlled units. But when those tenants die or move, those units go to market rates where they arere-controlled. That’s why the city has an inclusionary housing ordinance that requires that 20% of all units in every new development MUST
be set aside for low income households. This housing is usually taken by seniors, people with disabilities including HIV and low income workers which are often young people. This is the way we ensure that West Hollywood will have economic diversity in its future.
a) The Ellis Act allows landlords to exit the rental business as a matter of right. We cannot mandate that a landlord stay in the rental business. But if he/she leaves the rental business, the property owner must pay relocation fees. For qualified seniors, this fee is $21,000. The city established a policy years ago that qualified seniors who are Ellis’d out are given priority on the affordable housing lists. Another part of the solution is to build more units for seniors. This can be controversial when certain neighborhoods oppose the construction of new development with the mandatory 20% set aside units. But if we want more seniors to be able to live and stay in West Hollywood – we must build more affordable units.
b) We have considered micro units in the past. At first glance, they appear to be a good idea since students and artists would love to have small studio units if it means being part of West Hollywood. But micro units are usually approved without required parking spaces. This makes sense in cities like New York and San Francisco with subways for students who don’t require cars or parking. But we don’t have light rail in West Hollywood yet. And this could mean more cars on the streets and less street parking for our residents. However, with the arrival of shared vehicles like Uber and Lyft it may be time to look at this again as a possibility. We must be cautious to make sure we don’t address one problem and incidentally create another. It’s a careful balance between housing and parking.
c) It is better to insist that developers build new housing units on site.
9) No. I think that the regulations that we require new development or new business to go through are reasonable and necessary. Almost every home in West Hollywood is within 500 of a commercial business. We must make sure that business does not have an adverse impact on residents. This is why we have regulations and permitting. I think the most difficult obstruction for small business in West Hollywood is the high commercial rents in the city. We are not able to control commercial rents like we can control residential rents. But many entrepreneurs in high tech or entertainment industries can successfully operate their business out of their home. We must allow for live/work space to accommodate new small business and entrepreneurs. The only caveat is to make sure that they do not have high number of client visits which can adversely impact parking on residential streets.
I have lived in West Hollywood, since 1986. I moved to West Hollywood, because of rent control, and I could afford to live here as a young person. Our little gem has been discovered by the multitudes, understanding its proximity, its history, its entertainment and inclusion. With the growth we have seen over the last 20 years, West Hollywood has been the resource of much development, based on the fact that many bought property when it was extremely cheap and now they are cashing out. When you have a building that was bought for $240,000 in 1994, you are making a profit with a rent roll of $4,000 dollars, let’s say. But now you sell your property for $3 million. The mortgage alone would be $12,000 per month, not figuring in property tax, insurance, upkeep. So, the new owner is buying this property to tear it down, and build more units or a bigger house, because it does not make dollar sense, otherwise. However, developers will see that this is not so easy, as in the Huxley and The Dylan. You cannot expect average people to pay $3,000 for a studio when they do have other options, adjacent to West Hollywood. Developers cannot price prospective residents out of West Hollywood due to housing miscalculation or greed.
So, how do we stop it? I don’t know if we can. When property becomes valuable, the owners at some time, want to cash out. The city needs to find ways to encourage and keep landlords in the rental business, by either compromising on the annual general adjustment, more than .75-1.0%, so many landlords with long-term rent-controlled units can see some kind of small return, to help with GDP, and incentives for landlords that do not have the means to keep their building updated from becoming susceptible to being a tear down. I have a 1926 building, and it is in amazing shape, due to the love, upkeep and care I have invested into the property. Landlords have to have a sense of commitment to the community and not just see their property as cash cows and nothing more.
Also, the city must crack down on Airbnb and short term rentals that take rent stabilization off the market. This is driving up market rents, due to supply and demand, when otherwise an apartment that would rent for $2,000 per month is being Airbnb-ed out for $150 per night. It is wrong. Our neighborhoods and residential buildings are not zoned to be hotels.
a) The Ellis Act must be eliminated or drastically re-hauled. If landlords are going to Ellis their aging tenants, or any tenant for that matter, the evicted should share in the profits of the future sale or re-sale of units. A person who is Ellised should be paid upwards of $100,000 from a landlord or developer who will profit handsomely off of their misfortune.
b.) Micro units are a must and once were the fabric of the housing market. Millennials and others wish to soften their global foot print, and many don’t find it necessary to live in big spaces. This could create affordable, rent-stabilized housing that many could take advantage of.
c) I think contributing to the trust fund. Inclusionary and affordable housing does not make sense on a property that potentially Ellised 100 tenants. Ten units mean nothing to 100 people who lost their homes and are fighting to be at the top of the list to find inclusionary housing. Skyscrapers would have to be built for the bonuses and the required 10 to 20% of affordable units. The city needs to create/build housing or buy buildings to repurpose for affordable and workforce housing. For example, the parcel at the corner of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica is a perfect location for affordable and workforce housing, and still would be able to include a city parking structure.
9. The easy part is the direct access to our City Hall. The arduous part are the hoops the city makes a prospective entrepreneur jump through, with exorbitant costs for filings fees, permits and parking requirements, especially for grandfathered locations: meaning, a business that has never had onsite parking. Yet the city allows new, ground-breaking development, requiring no parking and allowing for exemptions, using public party structures as their resource, as in the case with Dean & Deluca coming in at Westbourne and Melrose. ZERO ONSITE PARKING. Yet it will be a flagship store and destination, countywide, and the city is allowing them to use the library as their parking, where as, even the Bodhi Tree, which was one-eighth of the size, had four spaces on site. So incredibly wrong.
Mostly, as property values increase, landlords are pricing potential business owners out of the market and will see their greed destroy a retail area. Abbot Kinney or Robertson Boulevard south of Beverly is an example. Triple net skyrocketed to $26 per foot. Overpriced and out of line. And businesses either went under or moved. The street died. Now, they are going back to $9 per square foot. Why could they not do this before? Greed. So if we don’t want West Hollywood to become East Beverly Hills, with big franchises and box stores, landlords need to be fair about rents and not gouge their tenants or prospective tenants. At the forum I spoke about the city eliminating terrace fees for restaurants and rolling back meters on Sundays, where they can be free. The city needs to support and work carefully in concert with the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
Simply, as long as triple net goes through the roof, we will not have “Mom & Pop” or unique business in WeHo. Just the same old, same old stores that litter America and have the deep pockets.
8) We need to protect our rent control law. Our rent control law safeguards current residents against rent increases which would push them out of the community. When vacancies occur, landlords are allowed to rent units at very high rates. This makes it difficult for people on limited incomes to move into the city.
Our inclusionary housing program requires new developments to include units for low and moderate-income residents. This provides an opportunity for housing especially for seniors. Some of the seniors who are living in apartments in the city are paying more than 70% of their income toward rent. If they are able to move into an inclusionary unit, their rent is much lower and the unit must remain affordable for the life of the building.
Creating opportunities for young people to live in West Hollywood is important, but we have seen a significant growth in the number of residents under 40 in West Hollywood. We have also seen many young people flocking to newly constructed buildings in downtown and Hollywood. We need to evaluate how we can make it easier for younger people to relocate to West Hollywood without adversely impacting existing residents.
a) Low- and moderate-income residents who are evicted under the Ellis Act are given priority for inclusionary housing units. Our inclusionary housing program requires newly-built residential buildings to include affordable units. The city also requires property owners who are using the Ellis Act to provide one year’s notice for seniors and disabled tenants. In addition, the city funds relocation assistance for those who are facing eviction under the Ellis Act. The city has also been working with state legislators in an effort to repeal or reform the Ellis Act.
b) The city does not prohibit smaller units. Having a building that includes some “micro-units” might create opportunities for young people to rent or own in the city, but having a building that only consists of micro units would create dormitory style housing that most people in the community would likely find unappealing. We should look at ways in which our zoning ordinance can encourage a mix of housing types within newly constructed buildings.
c) As a general rule, having affordable units built by a developer in a new development provides a more immediate impact on our shortage of affordable housing. In some instances, however, having a developer contribute to the housing trust fund allows for a non-profit to develop supportive housing for members of the community who need additional assistance.
The benefit of having the units developed on site by the developer is that the units are built and ready to be occupied when the building is completed. The units are also dispersed throughout the community. The benefit of in-lieu payments is that they can be combined with other funds and used to build affordable housing where services can be provided more efficiently on site for seniors and disabled individuals.
9) We are currently looking at ways we can simplify and improve the process of opening a new business in West Hollywood. We have regulations in place which are designed to protect the community from potentially adverse impacts of new businesses, but we always need to review those regulations to make sure they make sense in light of the current business environment. Whatever the city’s rules are for new businesses, we need to make sure people wishing to start a business are given clear guidance about the rules and timely assistance to expedite the opening of a business.
8) As I mentioned in my answer last week, we need to regulate the developers and require the building of more low income housing which young people, the disabled and seniors will be able to afford to live in.
a) If elected I plan to work with our state officials to repeal the Ellis Act. We as a city should be partnering with our state and federal officials to protect our most vulnerable citizens.
b) Absolutely!! This is one of my main issues that I am campaigning on.
c) I believe that the responsibility should fall with the developers of the buildings . We need to ensure that there are enough affordable units to accommodate the needs of the Citizens of West Hollywood.
9) We need to provide incentives such as rent and tax subsidies to business owners wanting to open their businesses in West Hollywood. There needs to be an affordable streamlined business licensing process, and a way to waive or reduce the licensing fees for small business owners looking to open. We also need city staff in place to assist business owners throughout the licensing process from beginning to end.
8) It is always preferable to have new housing built on site rather than having a developer pay in “in lieu” fee into our housing fund. The units constructed on site provide us with opportunities to provide housing for West Hollywood residents; when the city’s “in lieu” fees are paid to the West Hollywood Housing
Corporation, they use those funds to leverage additional funds from the Federal and State government. While that is a sensible option but it means we must open our list to folks who need housing but don’t live in West Hollywood. The upshot is that West Hollywood has been absorbing the affordable housing demands of other cities that are not as committed to creating housing.
I support the construction of micro units as one method of dealing with the problem of affordability and I would re-visit the general plan to mandate their inclusion in future development.
While our State legislature has weakened many tenant protections, our Rent Stabilization ordinance still provides meaningful protections to long term tenants. We must fight to preserve our stock of rent controlled housing and discourage its’ demolition. Our current Council majority has not been consistent and has approved the demolition or conversion of rent controlled housing to commercial developers. For example last year the City Council allowed the Center for Early Education to demolish a nine unit rent controlled building to expand its’ playground. The year before it allowed the demolition of a rent controlled building at the north end of Doheny to allow for another mega-hotel on Sunset.
There have been numerous other examples, including when the San Vicente Inn was allowed to take over two rent controlled buildings and use them for hotel rooms. The fact that the City has not cracked down on landlords who have taken units off the market for Air BnB has resulted in the loss of hundreds of previously rent controlled units.
The current City Council majority has presided over an unprecedented loss of rent stabilized units while sanctimoniously decrying the Ellis Act as the author of all of our reverses. I am totally committed to protecting our housing stock and will do so to the fullest extent of the law, making no exception for well connected developers and businesses. In short this question dodges the fact that the City has played an active role in the crisis upon us.
9.This is a long standing issue and I would create a joint task force with the Planning Commission, Business License Commission and the West Hollywood Chamber to make recommendations. But it also depends upon the type of business you want to open. We can make some accommodations for small restaurants to encourage business but I am not sure that opening another night club should be made easier given their huge impacts on traffic, parking and quality of life. We also need to mandate that developers create office space and other types of commercial spaces to accommodate a variety of businesses to reflect the actual needs of the community.
8). The affordable housing programs need to be reevaluated. Family, disabled access, and senior living facilities cannot be made less expensive if there is not more availability. This means development that has protections and restrictions put into place which cannot be made more expensive by developers taking advantage of loopholes in state regulations.
a) Forcing out our city’s senior residents with the Ellis Act is not okay. We are an inclusive, supportive community and we must consider finding ways to protect residents who are pushed out by the Ellis Act. As a community, we have an opportunity to be a state leader in pushing back against what is an inherently unjust law.
b) Being a younger resident I understand first hand the worries about finding affordable housing. While micro units can help with getting younger singles into apartments it can also create issues with developers. If we continue to only build for micro apartments then we run into the problem of developers not building for families who need affordable housing. I am not opposed to micro units but in order to support this type of development there would need to be strict guidelines in place of our policies allowing only a certain number or percentage of micro units in West Hollywood.
c) Addressing West Hollywood’s affordable housing problem is complex. We are in a serious need of housing for our low income residents given that the current waitlist is full. If we continue to have developers donate into the trust fund then are we not providing affordable housing to residents. In order to create housing there needs to be development for those that needs housing. Right now a priority is to have smart development which is building for those who need affordable housing.
9) The biggest obstacles for opening a business in West Hollywood is the permit process and unexpected consequences placed on businesses that do not meet certain requirements. I would reevaluate this process while working with business owners in West Hollywood to create hardship forms. Additionally, to benefit new business owners, we can provide educational materials like a 101 pamphlet designed to help make them successful. This can alleviate any concerns and simplify the appeals process for the small business owner
8 a) I think we need to get creative in finding workable solutions for our seniors who fall victim to this circumstance. Perhaps, we can look into incentivizing building and homeowners who have unused or vacant property, to help assist in short term housing for our displaced seniors. I think we could also take a solid look at how we are prioritizing our waitlists. Someone who has lived in West Hollywood and helped build this community that we all enjoy should be looked
out for and given “seniority” on available, affordable housing. I believe the solution to this issue is going to surface as we are more diligent and organized in knowing exactly what is available, what is in danger of falling prey to Ellis, and what the available immediate bridge will be between the two before anyone is displaced. In other words, we need a community game plan.
b) I think they are a good idea, but they need to fit into the master plan of the city as a whole. As I’ve mentioned before, I think an overall vision for the city is something we are still struggling with defining. I know a lot of my neighbors feel like projects are given the go ahead in singular instances, and not as part of a tightly laced overview of how we are growing our city. Micro-units popping up here and there, with no in depth thought put into how they will immediately effect the surrounding areas is not so cool. Well planned and congruent with its surroundings, a micro-unit building can be positive for our community, especially for those of us who want to be able to afford to live here and not watch it turn into Beverly Hills, Jr.
c) It depends. If a developer is building condos that will sell for a million a piece, a percentage of those units is a big contribution to affordable housing. However, if they are told they can get out of losing a percentage of units by contributing to a trust fund, that contribution needs to be comparable. If that’s the case, a trust fund is more effective, because it offers options on providing affordable housing, instead of a fixed number of units available, like we would have with the first option.
9) I’ve heard numerous accounts of this being absolutely true. Perhaps a Board for Small Business Owners would be helpful. I would be a very vocal advocate for involving the residents and local business owners in coming up with some solutions to rectify this, so we ensure our continued growth. I would also advocate for a thorough study of other cities and how they deal with similar circumstances. We can all learn from one another.